Out of the Past (1947)


An ex-private detective (Robert Mitchum, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison) with a shady past is now enjoying a quiet life in a small town, but old associates reappear and the former gumshoe is once again sucked into the seedy world of crime.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.”

Just as the main character slowly steps away from the light and moves back into the darkness, RKO Picture’s Out of the Past becomes a deliciously unsavory morsel of post-war fatalism. It’s deluxe 1940s noir, one of the essential films of the sub-genre and one of those movies I like more with each viewing.

Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, Out of the Past demonstrates in 97 minutes what noir is all about — don’t waste your time trying to explain the sub-genre to friends, just show them this movie!

This is a dark, dark movie. We all make mistakes and we tell ourselves that it is possible to overcome almost anything. It’s a comforting thought that helps us endure life’s hardships. Well, here comes Out of the Past to rain on our parade. The film tells us that you can’t escape past indiscretions. No matter how much you try, no matter how much effort you put into becoming a better person, the past will always come back to bite you in the butt. It’s a highly distressing thought that will give you anxiety.

And Out of the Past sticks to its uber-cynicism to the very last second. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice to say that our (anti) hero doesn’t drive off into the sunset — please, trust me on this one, don’t watch this movie if you are feeling down!

French emigre Jacques Tourneur, who was responsible for some of my all-time favorite horror movies (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and Night of the Demon), doesn’t put any exit signs anywhere. The film is filled with roadblocks and dead ends. Tourneur’s uncompromised vision is shockingly pessimist, especially in the context of mainstream Hollywood — this is “Murphy’s law” on steroids.

Actor Robert Mitchum’s laid-back acting style is used in devilishly clever ways here. Mitchum’s easy-going charm and unmistakable coolness distract you from the fact that this is a man on a collision course with death — those damn sleepy eyes of his will hypnotize you into walking off a cliff.

Jane Greer (Sinbad the Sailor) gives an extraordinarily creepy performance. Greer’s character is the femme fatale to end-all femme fatales! I wasn’t afraid of Kirk Douglas (The Bad and Beautiful), who plays a cruel gangster, I was scared of this gorgeous woman with a heart of ice. Speaking of Kirk, I have to give him kudos for underplaying his crooked businessman — I love urbane villains!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Extraordinarily moody and unbearably fatalist, Out of the Past has come to exemplify a certain type of movie for good reasons. It’s nasty, trashy, stylish and poetic in equal amounts. Out of the Past is one of the era’s best B-movies, a quintessential noir film. Remade in 1984 as Against All Odds. B&W, 97 minutes, Not Rated.

11 responses to “Out of the Past (1947)

  1. Definitely a Top 5 noir for me, if not my favorite…so many cool things going on, and Mitchum, Greer, and Douglas are just great. And you’re right: if you want someone to understand noir, just hand ’em a copy of this one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • One of the best noirs! I’m curious about the other 4 on your list!

      My Top 10 (in no particular order) …

      Sunset Boulevard
      Double Indemnity
      The Maltese Falcon
      Scarlet Street
      Night and the City
      Shadow of a Doubt
      The Killing
      Out of the Past

      Liked by 1 person

      • Awesome list there, Eric! As for me, here are my Top 5 favorites, in no order (besides the first one):
        Out of the Past
        Double Indemnity
        Criss Cross
        The Narrow Margin
        The Set-Up
        Okay, let’s round out the Top 10:
        99 River Street
        The Maltese Falcon
        Side Street
        The Big Sleep
        …and yes, about a hundred others that are tied for 11th!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I really like Kirk Douglas’s performance here, too. He’s restrained but still has a subtle menace. And Robert Mitchum! You nailed it when you said his coolness will distract you from his fate.

    Out of the Past is beautifully filmed cynicism.

    Liked by 2 people

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